By Dasarath Chetty
The community of Indian South Africans is approximately 1.3 million strong; a relatively small minority when one considers that the total population is almost 52 million. However, over half this number live in Durban and surrounding areas, and over 800 000 in total live in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. It is therefore the City and Province in which Indians become a significant element in local government elections making up approximately 2,5 % of the national population and 8 % of KZNs population. Historical restrictions on freedom of movement for Indians, under Apartheid, are primarily responsible for this situation.
Indian South Africans, like all South Africans, are no different when it comes to their requirements of government. The voters want clean government, access to basic services like education, health care, water, personal safety, electricity, roads and quality infrastructure, local economic development and an environment conducive to job creation; and to a large extent the African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela, has delivered this since assuming power in 1994.Clearly though, as evidenced by the 2016 local government election results, this has not been enough. In general, the ANCs share of the national vote dropped from 62% in 2011 to 54% in 2016. Of the five major metropolitan councils in the country, only Durban is completely under ANC control. Cape Town is firmly under the opposition Democratic Alliance and Johannesburg, Pretoria (Tshwane) and Port Elizabeth (Nelson Mandela Bay), all formerly ANC strongholds, are now hung municipalities meaning that coalitions (and horse trading) would become the order of the day.
For the first time voters have expressed through the ballot box their increasing disapproval of the ruling party, by either staying away from the polls or voting for other parties. Political commentator Adam Habib attributes the poor ANC results to ‘Zuma’s scandals’ noting that if the party ‘does not remove him it would lose its essential character’. Imraan Buccus also notes that ‘Zuma and the politics associated with him are the problem’. Even Nkosazana Zuma, African Union Chairperson and ex-wife of President Zuma, has blamed ‘weak leadership’ of the ANC for the losses. But is Jacob Zuma really the problem or is it the direction the ANC has taken in its transition from a liberation movement to a political party that is really the worry?
Similar to the Congress Party in India the ANCs first big scandal was over an arms deal costing billions more than was anticipated and mired in allegations of corruption. President Zuma’s relationship with Shabir Shaik (and more recently the Gupta family) has been widely slated in this context.
At the same time as the arms deal there was a major policy shift from the Reconstruction and Development Programme, the basis on which the ANC came to power, to Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) which reflected a shift to the right. Then came ‘AIDS denialism’, factionalism (that continues today) that led to the removal of President Mbeki, continued widespread allegations of corruption at every level of government, violent service delivery protests from an underclass that feels let down and low economic growth coupled with a significant decline in the value of the rand against the dollar since 1994.
None of the Indian ANC candidates won their Wards in Durban which has 110 Wards. However, at least four Indian candidates would serve as ANC Councillors because of the proportional representation system in place. In the formerly ‘Indian’ area of Reservoir Hills, the ANC lost the Ward for the first time. ANC activists attribute this to perceptions of corruption by ANC officials, the ANC run Government, Municipal departments and the President; Affirmative Action in government departments disregarding merit and excluding both males and females of Indian origin from jobs and promotions; the use of the quota system for entrance to various University Faculties that disadvantage and exclude excellent Indian students and a lack of low cost housing for Indians. Even residents of the informal settlements in the area voted for the opposition because of service delivery issues.
The time has come for the ANC to introspect and chart a new trajectory based more closely on its stated commitment to the Freedom Charter.